The Femicide Census is the result of decades of women’s work to counter men’s violence. Photo: Getty
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Why we need a Femicide Census

Finally, data from dozens of sources about the killings of women by men can be brought together so we can see how grave the problem really is.

The launch of the Femicide Census is the culmination of the work of one individual: Karen Ingala Smith, self-described “random woman in a back bedroom in Walthamstow”. At the beginning of 2012, she realised that the news was telling her the same story over and over, although the names and details changed. There was Kirsty Treloar, killed by her boyfriend Myles Williams; Susan McGoldrick, Alison Turnbull and Tanya Turnbull, killed by Susan’s partner Michael Atherton; Claire O’Connor, killed by her boyfriend Aaron Mann; Betty Yates, killed by drifter Stephen Farrow. Again and again and again and again, women were being killed by men.

Ingala Smith understands something about the patterns of male violence – in her day job, she’s CEO of domestic and sexual violence charity nia – and she started taking note. This was the beginning of Counting Dead Women, the most comprehensive resource on women killed by men in the UK. “Once I’d started, how could I stop?” she asks the audience at Northcliffe House, who have come to mark the development of her project into the Femicide Census, in collaboration with Women’s Aid, legal firm Freshfields, Bruckhaus and Deringer LLP, and Deloitte LLP, which has provided the analytic muscle of the Census. “How could I say the next didn’t matter?”

But the Femicide Census is also the culmination of decades of women’s work to counter men’s violence. (At this event, there are no tactful efforts to portray violence as an equal opportunities crime: when women are killed, it’s usually by men, and no one on the panels or in the audience has any qualms about saying so. “We won’t get anywhere being gender-neutral,” says Polly Neate of Women’s Aid, briskly.) Speakers include feminist campaigner and academic Jill Radford, who (with Diana E H Russell) co-edited the book Femicide: The Politics of Women Killing, published in 1992. Then, it introduced the word “femicide” to describe the phenomenon Radford defines as “the killing of women because they’re women”, and it was definitive in scope, taking in the intersections with racism, honour cultures and white western cultural misogyny.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, Femicide sets the bar for the study of male violence against women, and stands as a still-pertinent foundation for the work yet to be done. I ask Radford whether she thinks the Census represents a high point for women’s resistance to male violence. Now retired, she puts today’s launch into the context of her years of activism, and sees what still needs doing. “There’s this dream that the government will swoop in,” she says. “Even back then [in the Seventies and Eighties] we thought we’d just be running the refuges for now.” But any piece of legislation is only a stage in the campaign, and can never make women’s organisations redundant. “Don’t just demand that the government does things,” Radford tells me. “Demand that it does them right. These things have to be woman-centred.”

Criticism of the current government is one of the unifying themes of the day. Many frontline service providers are in the room, and the cuts have been keenly felt. Karen Bradley MP, the minister for modern slavery and organised crime, makes many of the right noises in her keynote speech, but is notably light on financial commitments. In the question-and-answer section afterwards, criminologist Dr Aisha K Gill pointedly raises the decimation of specialist refuge services, particularly those that work with black and minority ethnicity women (Latin American Women’s Aid is right now campaigning to retain its funding). Bradley’s vague response offers little comfort, and nor does she suggest that any government resources will be available to maintain and expand the Femicide Census.

This seems like appalling short-sightedness on the part of the government. The Femicide Census means that data from dozens of sources about the killings of women by men can finally be brought together. A demonstration shows just how powerful a tool this can be: cases can be analysed by relationship between the woman and her killer (the Census captures all acts of femicide, including stranger attacks and familial abuse, not just fatal intimate partner violence), recorded motive, age of victim and perpetrator, whether the woman had children or not – almost any metric you can think of is available to interrogation, although there are many gaps in the data still to be filled (in particular, details on ethnicity are hard to come by).

The more you know, the more you can achieve. The Femicide Census opens up huge new possibilities for evidence-based policy, as Dr Marceline Naudi says in her opening remarks: “We want our counting to count.” In fact, by the end of the day, it’s obvious that this is more than a “want” – tackling fatal male violence against women is an absolute necessity. We hear personal tributes to the aunts, daughters and sisters cruelly pinched out of existence. Most wrenching of all is the constant refrain of missed opportunities. For example, Julie Warren-Sykes speaks eloquently of her daughter Samantha, murdered by the abusive boyfriend of a friend, despite chance after chance for separate agencies to put the pieces together and intervene. With the help of the Census, the patterns of men killing women can be made visible – and undeniable, even to the most placidly incurious of public services.

Already, Ingala Smith’s tireless recording seems to have brought about a change in the way violence is discussed. A year ago, it felt controversial to question the pat police phrase “isolated incident”, trotted out to reassure us that individual men had satiated their violence on individual women and been contained. Thanks to the Census, we can see the connections. We know that male violence is never isolated – it is systemic in a hierarchical society where men stand above and women below. We know that violence against women follows distinct trends: for example, while violent crime is declining overall, intimate partner violence (a form of violence committed predominantly against women) has remained stable since 2008-9. And in this context, we talk about femicide, so we can see precisely the lines of power and control that work their damage on women. “Our lives are worthy and our voices should be heard,” says domestic violence survivor Mandy Wood in her talk. The Femicide Census is the voice of a crisis. It is time to listen. It is time to act.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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